video still from the performance - Liberate yourself from national identity (Scotland)
Skip to Content

Aeneas Wilder: Writings WeAreTheArtists No 4. Update: Monflanquin

Dear Jim,

Many thanks for the food parcel. Not that I miss the muck that passes for food in Scotland, but it gave the director and his colleagues, here in France, such a laugh to think that this stuff is considered nutritious in our homeland.

Thanks also for the information on racism. Yes it is good news that the Scottish Executive has at last decided to research and analyse data that may show exactly how big the problem is in Scotland. Certainly there seems to be a growing problem in the rest of the UK. No surprise to you or I though. I remember well the hostility we used to encounter back in the eighties, traveling down to London to see some bands. If racial intolerance can be sparked merely by someone's accent then there are some deeply rooted problems within British society.

You are right when you highlight the problems that face even those born in Scotland. Of course, if your mother and father were both originally from Bengal, then clearly you are going to have a genetic imprint that makes you look different that the average white skinned punter from Paisley. Despite some 50% of all Asians being Scottish by birth the idea of exclusion is so well ingrained into the "Scottish" psyche that I feel it may never be eradicated.

The documents that you sent to me were of great interest and I can draw a parallel between what is highlighted regarding racism, and my own experiences of exclusion, although not racist, within Scotland.

My unusual hairline, combined with the choice never to actually cut my hair has given me something of a non conformist appearance. Of course my name does not help either, and probably raises deep suspicions as to my 'Scottish pedigree'. However it is inexcusable that I was victimised by certain tutors all those years ago, due to my opinions about the art system. What I thought might be healthy debate was perceived as a challenge to the status quo. Due to the smallness of the Scottish art world network this process of intolerance was easily extended. I suspect that I have been persecuted, as defined by the Scottish Executive, within the Scottish art world over a period of some 10 years now. These words may appear too strong to you. They relate directly to racism, however the concepts that define racism can also be applied to elitism, and God knows the art world is elite if nothing else. Certainly, the world over, artists are aware of the elitism, nepotism and other forms of skulduggery than benefit one person while being detrimental to another. Those on the selection committees have close ties to the tutors and senior artists. Word gets around and if the word is not good then you are faced with a handicap.

Despite my best efforts to gain a foothold in the country of my birth, I am still excluded from the major systems here that operate to promote artists. I wonder to what extent the propaganda, generated during my undergraduate, post graduate and the subsequent studio years, has fed into this atmosphere of exclusion? It is impossible to prove, although the circumstantial evidence makes a pressing case in itself. In my case there is of course the small fact that at least one senior curator is married to a tutor who dismissed me from art school, his scribbled letter stating under no circumstances was I ever to expect support from his institution in the future. I know Jim, I should have kept that letter. I do still have the internal memo from the Scottish Arts Council that states, for the record, that I received £ 8,000 in 1999, despite that fact that I received no such sum. Yes I am still waiting for the letter confirming that this "clerical error" has been rectified, twelve months after the memo was first leaked to me. Few artist get a second major award from the SAC and this may go some way to explaining why I have been refused eleven times since 1999, for my first major award.

Some of the other definitions in the Scottish executive paper fit nicely with my situation, although they do not explain why my work, or my appearance, is met with stony silence back in Scotland This never fails to amuse, as I seem to receive nothing but praise and encouragement in every other country in which I work. I did smile at the definition of "migrant worker", which indeed is exactly what I am, having been forced to find work outside my native country due to the atmosphere of discrimination. I would not go so far as to say I was "displaced", as I have not yet been forced to flee Scotland. However, this may well change if I ever show the Scottish saltire flag splashed in urine.

When I compare my small struggles to the desperate plight of so many people around the world, this all seems fairly trivial. However, if the good people of Scotland cannot even accept their own kind, "warts and all"- and this is in no way restricted to the art world - then what chance do we have of casting aside our racial and cultural prejudices? A Man's a Man for a' That - they should have been teaching us Robert Burns in school instead of Henry the Eighth all those years ago, and the problem may not have gotten so out of hand. I look forward to reading your draft thesis on the subject. Don't forget to be sycophantic towards your work colleagues there in the university, or all that hard work may be buried in an old filing cabinet and never get the recognition it deserves.

With best wishes for Jason and yourself, aeneas


homeexhibitionsprojectsvideowritings linkscontact
All images and text copyright © aeneas wilder